Update: Naomi Osaka has withdrawn from the French Open. She announced her decision on Instagram, explaining, “I am not a natural public speaker and get huge waves of anxiety before I speak to the world’s media.” She also revealed that she has “suffered long bouts of depression” since winning her first Grand Slam title in 2018.
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Yesterday: Ahead of the French Open, Japanese tennis superstar Naomi Osaka announced she would not be speaking to the media for the sake of her mental health. Now, after sticking to her word, her move has cost her a hefty fine of $15,000.
On May 30, the Grand Slam tournaments confirmed in a press release that Osaka, 23, had been fined $15,000 for skipping her mandatory press conference after defeating her opponent, Patricia Maria Tig. “Naomi Osaka today chose not to honour her contractual media obligations,” the statement read in part. “The Roland-Garros referee has therefore issued her a $15,000 fine, in keeping with article III H. of the Code of Conduct.”
Osaka had shared her reasoning behind avoiding the press in a lengthy Instagram post ahead of the French tournament several days ago. “I’ve often felt that people have no regard for athletes mental health and this rings true whenever I see a press conference or partake in one,” she wrote. “We’re often sat there and asked questions that we’ve been asked multiple times before or asked questions that bring doubt into our minds and I’m just not going to subject myself to people that doubt me.”
While we commend Osaka for taking a stance and doing what she needs to do for her mental health, the Grand Slam tennis leaders were less than pleased. They warned Osaka that she would get fined and wrote in their statement that all players have to do press junkets. “We want to underline that rules are in place to ensure all players are treated exactly the same, no matter their stature, beliefs or achievement,” they wrote. “As a sport there is nothing more important than ensuring no player has an unfair advantage over another, which unfortunately is the case in this situation if one player refuses to dedicate time to participate in media commitments while the others all honour their commitments.”
Players are obligated to show up for news conferences if they are asked to do so and, because Osaka is currently ranked number two in the world, it was pretty much a given that the press would be all over her. She has participated in interviews with the press in the past, even going so far as to encourage other athletes to do them when they are feeling down as was the case in 2019, when she comforted player Coco Gauff at the US Open after beating her.
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Athletes are often only commended for what they can do with their bodies, but Osaka is igniting an important conversation around taking care of their minds as well. By facing fines for her decision, she is drawing attention to a part of the job that is considered compulsory for pro athletes, despite the negative impacts it can have.
As she continues to raise awareness around mental health, we hope that the Grand Slam leaders will take into account her suggestion that the amount she is fined is donated to a mental health charity.
Related: 10 tips for coping with social anxiety.